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Oakland strike: For Occupy protesters, frenzied rumors before march on port

With the worldwide movement watching the Occupy Oakland strike, hundreds of protesters target banks and swap rumors before the day's main dramatic act: a march on the Port of Oakland.

By Staff writer / November 2, 2011

Occupy Oakland protesters march on Nov. 2, in Oakland, Calif. Thousands of anti-Wall Street protesters are in the streets of Oakland, Calif., as part of a day-long series of events aimed at showing the movement's strength and unity.

Ben Margot/AP

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Los Angeles

With the eyes of the international Occupy movement turned toward Oakland Wednesday, protesters and officials did their earnest best to justify the intense scrutiny. Despite a flurry of exhortations, misinformation and official press conferences – what ensued for most of the day was a largely peaceful protest by hundreds of marchers.

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But the rumors did fly, especially regarding Occupy Oakland’s prize target of its day of mass action, the shutdown of the Port of Oakland in solidarity with longshoremen in Washington State.

From early in the morning word was broadcast that the port was shut by a wildcat strike hours before the Occupy marchers even moved in its direction. That was followed by a denial from International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union spokesperson Craig Merrilees. "We are absolutely not calling for a strike," he said.

At a 12:30 news conference, however, the official word from the city was more, well, nuanced. The situation at the port is “fluid,” officials said.

Whether the Occupy Oakland protesters had achieved other goals they set themselves was also under constant review: How many business shut down in solidarity? How many workers were on strike? How many marchers showed up?

Many stores did close and numerous public employees such as teachers and nurses did take the day off to show solidarity with the group’s call for a citywide general strike. City officials said some 5 percent of city employees took the day off. As the day wore on, police estimates put the crowd size at swelling to around 1,000.

Some shuttered stores openly declared support, such as The Men’s Wearhouse, which posted a window sign, “We stand with the 99%. Closed Wednesday, Nov. 2.”

Other small businesses such as the Payless Shoe Store on Broadway remained open (marchers need shoes, right?).

But foremost on the protesters’ minds was whether or not the Port of Oakland had been shut down, as many exuberantly declared early in the day.

According to Cecily Burt, a reporter who covers West Oakland for the Contra Costa Times, some 40 of the roughly 325 expected longshoreman due for the morning shift did not report for work Wednesday. A number of those workers turned up among the marchers, she noted, but over at the port, “the gates and terminals are open.”

Around mid-morning, many marchers were under the impression that the entire port had been shut down, and, reported Ms. Burt, her paper’s own website had carried that information in error. “Our reporters tweeted it,” she says, before the information was corrected.

That did not stop the rumor from spreading through the Occupy Oakland crowds. Talking on his cell phone as he moved down Broadway, a block from City Hall, media spokesman Allan Brill reported that all the cranes at the nearby port were shut down and the trucks backing up at the gates.  “A wildcat strike is happening,” he said.

Burt noted that trucks backing up at the gates is business as usual at the port.

Nonetheless, the protesters were still planning to march on the port in time to close it down for the evening shift, says Mr. Brill, noting that a march has been called for 5 PM.

Other prime targets of Occupy Oakland were banks. Protesters marched on branches of the Wells Fargo and Comerica banks, where the city advised the banks to lock the doors and allow customers in one by one. At least one of nine Wells Fargo branches in Oakland did not open for the day, a company spokesman said.

Whether or not the day’s action succeeds in shutting down the city port, it will have an impact, points out David Fiorenza, a finance professor at Villanova University. “There will be costs for policing and cleanup,” he notes.

However, according to Susan Piper, a special assistant to Oakland’s mayor, the city is still tallying policing costs and Wednesday was seeing a “minimum presence of police.”

The most important impact may be the effect of the day’s mass actions on the larger Occupy movement, says Los Angeles media and political consultant, David Gershwin.

“One of the complaints early on was that the actions of the Occupy movement were not getting serious media attention or being taken seriously,” he says, adding, “today’s actions in Oakland certainly show that they are a force to be reckoned with.”

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